It takes two to Tango

The Identica and Tango alliance is the latest indication of the blossoming relationship between advertising and design. Lynda Relph-Knight reports on the trend for greater unity.

There’s a good chance that 1998 will be remembered as the year the barriers started to break down between advertising and design. The relationship between the two has been a good seminar topic throughout the year, with emphasis on the opportunities for design to expand its influence by muscling in on ad work. But a handful of high-profile initiatives have injected a bit of reality into the debate, setting an agenda for astute design groups to follow.

The latest of these is the deal between branding and identity consultancy The Identica Partnership and Tango Design, the retail communications specialist owned by ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (DW 11 December).

Under the deal, Identica gets Tango, and with it an inroad into retail at the point-of-purchase. Tango keeps its name and status as a separate profit centre within Identica, though Tango managing director Sarah Bratt and creative director Peter Rae join Identica’s seven-strong management team.

BBH, meanwhile, takes a 21 per cent shareholding in Identica’s empire, now with a 10m annual turnover and employing about 90 staff. And, while the ad agency’s stake in the group is described by Identica executive creative director and managing partner Michael Peters as “a passive holding”, it boosts its design interests.

The Identica/BBH link up is being promoted as a design deal. Identica and 16-strong Tango benefit by expanding their respective offers through the line to clients as diverse as whisky brand Johnnie Walker and film company Universal Studios from Identica’s portfolio, and Tango stalwarts Nike, RayBan and Levi Strauss.

But however remote the formal relationship, the deal puts BBH in the frame with Identica – with which it has already worked on the Mercury One 2 One campaign – and Tango, which took the essence of BBH’s award-winning Levi’s ads through to the retail environment. And, while it expands the empire presided over by Peters, known to be a big company man, it also brings him closer to his old friend and fellow creative heavyweight John Hegarty. Watch this space for future developments.

Glenn Tutssel of Tutssels@The Brand Union worked for 11 years at the old Michael Peters Group before setting up with screen graphics star Martin Lambie-Nairn. He says the deal with BBH gives Peters “a fast-track into forming a bigger company” and doesn’t rule out advertising as one of the directions it might take.

“The industry is going to move. Advertising and design together offer the ultimate one-stop shop,” says Tutssel. Just as he and Lambie-Nairn spotted the opportunity for an agency which takes the brand on-screen, so advertising could be Peters’ next step.

Integrated marketing services groups aren’t new. Martin Sorrell’s WPP Group is exactly that, as, among others, is Landor’s US parent Young and Rubicam. But while most work a system of cross-referrals, few are truly integrated in the way we might expect Peters, with his multidisciplinary MPG experience, to run his team.

Integration underpins The Open Agency, which launched in August following the merger 12 months previously between Abbot Mead Vickers-owned through-the-line agency McBains and design group Horseman Cooke (DW 14 August). “We are on to another plateau as far as growth is concerned,” said Open managing director of design Mike Horseman at the time of the name-change. “We can now look at complete corporate culture projects.”

Open creative director of advertising Giles Keeble, who handled the McBains/Horseman Cooke takeover, says of the Identica/BBH deal: “Every group is looking to expand its services, in terms of giving itself a broader base.”

Advertising isn’t taboo to all in design, despite hurdles over fees and access to the client’s boardroom. Top flight groups such as Wolff Olins and The Partners have strayed over the border in the past few months, revisiting a sector that is part of their heritage. Younger graphics group Johnson Banks, meanwhile, dabbles on the ad side – a natural place for a poster design star – and multimedia skills have opened up the commercials world, particularly in the US, for The Attik, among others.

Nor do clients necessarily see advertising as the most effective means to put across their message. Having so many communications platforms to choose from – print, screen, the Internet and radio – has created a niche for specialist consultant Circus and others to act as intermediary between client and marketing services agencies to put teams together for an integrated campaign.

Set up in January, Circus boasts an impressive line-up – former Body Shop global marketing head Dilys Maltby, Tim O’Kennedy, former marketing head at Nike, and ad men Paul Twivy and Tim Ashton, respectively former group chief executive and former executive director of Bates Dorland. Working for clients such as the BBC and NCR, it can potentially open the door for designers to work across boundaries.

However, most forays by designers into the ad camp involve seizing the opportunity presented by established clients – the way Identica and Tango are likely to proceed. But given Peters’ profile and track record, we can expect innovation in their approach. Advertising is only one possible direction they might take, but as Tutssel says, Peters is “back on track”, and that usually means there’s no stopping him.

Key dates

1970 Packaging design group Michael Peters & Partners set up

1981 Michael Peters Group formed, including MP&P

1983 MPG floated on Unlisted Securities Market

1985 Michael Peters Retail set up within MPG

1987 Ad agency BBH sets up Tango Design

1990 MPG goes into administrative receivership. Michael Peters Retail management completes buyout to form XMPR. Craton Lodge & Knight buys MPG and creates Michael Peters Ltd, with Michael Peters as chairman

1992 Peters resigns as MPL chairman, setting up The Office of Michael Peters. This becomes Identica

1995 Identica is renamed The Identica Partnership

1998 BBH takes 21 per cent stake in Identica, swapping ownership for Tango as part of the deal

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